Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

To coincide with the 60th anniversary of James Dean's death on Wednesday 30 September 2015, we take a look at the file for Rebel Without A Cause (1955), in which Dean plays teenager Jim Stark, in one of his most celebrated film roles.

Rebel Without A Cause, directed by Nicholas Ray, follows the story of troubled teen Jim Stark, who moves to a new town in an attempt to make a fresh start, but finds being the new kid in town brings its own problems. The film attempts to highlight differences between generations, and the moral decay of American youth. It was submitted to the BBFC for classification in October 1955, however its depiction of what the BBFC considered to be anti-social behaviour and teen violence, required substantial cuts before the film could be released with an X certificate, restricting the audience to those aged 16 and over.

The cuts required to award an X certificate can be seen in a letter sent to the film's distributor, Warner Bros. Pictures, dated 17 October 1955. The letter also highlights the Board's concerns about widespread public anxiety about juvenile delinquency and its opinion that, in its uncut form, Rebel Without A Cause could have a harmful influence on young people.

Cuts were made for Rebel Without A Cause to be passed with an X certificate, although not before the distributor attempted to persuade the Board to pass the film at the less restrictive A certificate, which permitted under 16s to see the film if accompanied by an adult.  The BBFC was firm that it could not award the film an A in this cut form, and suggested further cuts, listed in the letter available here, that would be required for an A to be considered. Ultimately the distributor concluded that these cuts, mostly to the dialogue of the film, would remove too much of its meaning, in particular the weakness of the parents, which is a cause of the unhappiness of the adolescents.

The film was awarded an X certificate on 1 December 1955 and was not seen again by the Board until April 1976. By this time the X certificate restricted films to those aged 18 and over. Rebel Without A Cause was submitted without the cuts made for the X certificate in 1955 and passed AA, allowing those aged 14 and over to see it. By this time the BBFC appreciated the morality of the film and no longer considered it a cause for anxiety in the same way it was in 1955.

In June 1985 Rebel Without A Cause was submitted for a modern video classification and awarded a PG certificate, with Examiners describing the film as seeming "both old fashioned and harmless" compared to modern programmes aimed at children such as Grange Hill. The Examiner report available here describes how the film had lost its power to shock, but still carried a moral message and the ability to entertain.  The controversial flick knife scene and the chicken run were still the most problematic scenes in the film, but appeared much tamer and the consequences of both were clearly played out, making them acceptable at the PG level.

Rebel Without A Cause was classified PG on video again in 1995 and on film in 2004, with the BBFCinsight 'Contains moderate violence'.